Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Escape from Jury Duty

This morning I drove to Union City (they still have free parking in the east-side city-owned lots) and took BART up to Oakland and arrived at the Alameda County Courthouse in plenty of time for the 8:30 jury call, which actually didn't really get going until closer to 9 AM.

The Courthouse has "airline-style" security with a single metal detector and X-ray machine. They're not quite as silly as the airports -- you only have to take off your shoes if they have metal in them, and you don't even have to remove your computer from its case. I did have to remove my belt because of that large bronze belt buckle, but it wasn't too bad, and the people there seemed less uptight than TSA.

There's no internet access in the Jury Waiting Room, although there are a few little booths where you can get some work done on the computer, so I set up my computer and worked on stuff for which I needed no internet access. OTOH, I felt funny about possibly leaving my stuff just sitting there -- maybe someone would treat it as a potential threat? -- and therefore when I needed to use the restroom, I shut stuff down and moved out of the booth, at which point of course someone else snarfed it up.

A little after 9, the clerk did Orientation, explaining the process and showing a video about why serving on juries is a good thing. After that was over, I thought we were going to have a lot more waiting to do, so I popped out into the hall to buy a coffee, as I'd had none (no time for it because I'd used my spare time booking that Austin air ticket for SMOFCon this morning). When I came back into the room, the clerk was already calling off names. Good thing I'm near the end of the alphabet! Eventually my name came up and our group was told to report to Department 13.

I and a couple of other people were caught out by the early call and were obliged to gulp down what we could of our coffees and discard the rest, as no food or drink is permitted in the courtroom. Every seat was filled. I remember marveling at how incredibly quiet it was. The room was packed, and had this been, say, the run-up to a WSFS Business Meeting with the Chair not yet at the head table, there would have been cacophony -- what John Hancock called, in 1776 "the morning festivities." Here, you could hear a pin drop, with the only sounds being an occasional cough or throat-clearing. One person was carrying reading material in a plastic shopping bag, and when he got it out, the crackling filled the room and everyone looked his direction. Of course, that seems to have been the signal for the Clerk to have us all rise and swear us in, after which Judge Jeffrey Horner entered the room and we got down to business.

The judge, during his orientation lecture, apologized for having "the hardest seats in Alameda County," but did point out that the chairs in the jury box were much more comfortable. The Courthouse, he said, was built during the New Deal, and the audience area seats date back to the days of Franklin Roosevelt. He was very apologetic about the huge info-dump he had to lay on us, but I understood completely. Indeed, given the setting, with the presiding officer at a head table with a gavel surrounded by other officers, I thought very much of the opening ten minutes of the WSFS Business Meeting, which consisted of me lecturing to the members on procedures.

Anyway, Judge Horner explained the case and had the Clerk read the formal "Information" (what some jurisdictions call an indictment) from the Alameda County District Attorney's office. This was a vehicular manslaughter case, and it appears that the two defendants were accused of having killed three people. The rest was buried in a sea of redundant verbiage that I hope I would have had a chance to review had it come to that.

After a while, he broke the bad news to us: besides jury selection taking 2-3 days, he expected this case to take at least six weeks and last through the end of October. Court sessions would be 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM, Monday through Thursday except for the third Wednesday of each month, those being the furlough days ordered by the Governor.

We all were allowed to submit reasons why we should be excused from the case. Simply causing disruption to business wasn't sufficient grounds for being excused, so the company meeting in early October wasn't even worth mentioning. However, he explicitly mentioned "non-refundable plane tickets" as something that would be worth considering, so I pointed out that I had non-refundable tickets to go to Oregon in mid-October and "would incur financial and personal hardship if I had to throw away those tickets and set aside promises to my wife and her father." The judge then put us into recess and said, "Be back in an hour," while he and the attorneys went to chambers to look over the paperwork.

I went outside the courthouse, expecting there to be some restaurants and coffee shops catering to the courthouse-district crowd. Maybe I went the wrong direction but I went five or six blocks before finally finding a coffee shop, where I got coffee and a scone and took advantage of their free wi-fi to check mail and messages.

After about 40 minutes, I figured I'd better get back to the courthouse and allow enough time to clear Security, in case there was a rush, but as it happens, not only did I get back with ten minutes to spare, but the judge came out ten minutes after the time he originally told us to be back and said it would be another twenty minutes, which it was.

When the court reconvened, the judge began reading off the names of people who he was letting go. Unlike the earlier roll calls, this was in random order, based on the stack of request papers in front of him, so everyone was on the edge of their hard wooden seats waiting to see if their excuses were sufficient. Just as I feared he was about to run out of papers, he turned a page and said, "Kevin Standlee?"

I stood and said, "Here."

He said, "Thank you, Mr. Standlee; you are excused."

And that was that. I turned in my juror badge and left. I'm now clear for at least one year.

I went across to the Oakland Public Library, which claimed to have free wi-fi, and set up my computer on a table within line-of-sight of the WAP. My computer said it could see the hot spot, but for some reason it could not hold a connection open. After about fifteen minutes of that, I gave up, shut the computer down, walked back to BART and returned to Union City.

Getting back to Union City, and after stopping to have lunch and pick up a couple of small groceries from the Safeway near the BART station, I went back to my van and was first relieved to find that I had indeed remembered to turn off the headlights and horrified to discover that I'd left the van unlocked. No harm done, however, and I headed home.

I'm not adverse to doing my civic duty, and indeed, aside from the long time commitment, I had no reason not to want to be on the jury. But that time commitment would have been formidable, and not only would have cost me an airline ticket, but would certainly have done no good for my goodwill account at work, no matter what the laws on jury duty are.

I also tell myself that it is unlikely I would have survived the voir dire process, as I expected at least one of the counsels to toss me on a peremptory challenge.
Tags: jury duty

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